Spring – the season of weddings, graduations, and, in the Catholic world at least, ordinations. Surrounding each ceremony are words of congratulations to the couple, the graduate, or the priest. They in turn give words of thanks to the supportive families and friends who helped them to this point. The events have all the feel of something concluded and complete – finished. And not without reason as they will no longer have to bother with high school, college, seminary, and (that most painful of all schools) marriage prep. But if we stop there – as we usually do – we miss the point entirely. Because spring is, of course, a season more about starting than concluding, more about growth than completion. And so also each of these events is more a beginning than an end.
First, marriage. We know that a wedding indicates a beginning: a new couple, a new home, a new life together. Unfortunately, after the wedding day most couples stop applying themselves to the relationship as they had prior. The new life stops growing for many almost as soon as it is begun. The preparation is done, they think. But marriage is not a perpetual motion machine that, once set in motion, keeps going and going. It is a living organism that needs constant care and cultivation. A deacon in our Diocese likes to shock engaged couples to this reality. “Don’t get married,” he tells them. Then he continues, “Always be getting married.” In other words, no couple should ever think that they are done working on their married life.
Second, graduation. It rightly brings some sense of accomplishment and achievement. But the nature of education is such that we should also acknowledge graduation as one of many steps. The word “graduate” comes from the Latin for step, gradus. Those who graduate have not concluded their education. They have simply completed another step. This is why graduation ceremonies are often called “commencement exercises.” Clearly, schools want their graduates to see that things are beginning, not ending. If we lose sight of this reality, then we confine education to our years in school, whereas it should be ongoing and lifelong. In that sense we should always be graduating, that is, completing more and more steps in our education.
So also for the men to be ordained at Saint Thomas More Cathedral tomorrow. Many Thank Yous will be spoken, much gratitude expressed. But this end is a beginning. The hard work of preparation and formation does not remain in the past. It is an ongoing task – like marriage and education, but more so. They receive tomorrow their configuration to Christ the Head of the Church. The rest of their lives must be spent growing into this. And the priest who thinks that his formation and preparation for priesthood ends at ordination will live a very superficial – and sad – priesthood.
Corresponding to this continued need for growth is the continued need for prayers. Now that these men have made it to the big day, do not think they no longer need your prayers. They need them now more than ever. They will have been launched into a life of the greatest sacrifice and service. Now the real work begins, the real oblation commences, and – not to put too fine a point on it – the real spiritual combat is engaged.
Growth, so evident in the spring, is the most unmistakable sign of life. These springtime ceremonies should likewise augur a beginning of growth, not an end. A genuine marriage is that in which the spouses are always growing in self-giving, always seeking how best to live their one-flesh union. A true graduate keeps graduating, constantly learning and progressing in wisdom long after any degree is conferred. And a true priest of Jesus Christ is not content with the oblation on his ordination day. He seeks to deepen that self-gift, to conform himself more and more to the reality of the priesthood, to the likeness of Christ the High Priest.